The Best Spots for an Epic Alaska Hiking Trip - Travel for Your Life

The Best Spots for an Epic Alaska Hiking Trip

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Alaska is a hiker’s paradise, and anyone who loves nature will never want to leave this wild frontier. The state is home to turquoise lakes, alpine tundra, sparkling rivers, temperate rainforest, and some of the highest peaks in North America. It’s enough to leave me speechless and feels like the crown jewel of American hiking.

And given Alaska’s gargantuan size, you could hike for years and still only scratch the surface to its beauty. It’s an excruciating task to select the best hiking areas of Alaska since there are so many. Alaska has indescribable scenery around every turn and dozens of nature reserves to explore. When your flight or cruise arrives in Alaska, you’ll quickly understand why there are eight national parks.

From snow-clad peaks and enormous glaciers to untamed wildlife, hiking in Alaska is a dream come true (for me included). Alaska has tons of marked hiking trails, but its backcountry is a gateway into raw nature. A hiking trip here will keep your camera snapping and your jaw-dropping.

This trip will generate a multitude of posts across social media and should you need great nature quotes to go with your pics from this trip check this out.


The Best Spots for an Epic Alaska Hiking Trip

Best Places to Hike | Top Hiking Trails in Alaska | Harding Icefield Trail | Crow Pass Trail from Girdwood Trailhead | Chilkoot Pass Trail | Reed Lakes Trail | West Glacier Trail | Deer Mountain Trail | Lost Lake Trail | Indian River Trail | Winner Creek Trail | Savage River Loop | Thorofare Ridge Trail | Curry Ridge Trail | Ward Lake Trail 


Best Places to Hike

Where to begin when searching for the best hiking spots in Alaska? In addition to its national parks, Alaska boasts an incredible selection of state parks, national reserves, and wildlife refuges to wander. But you often don’t even need to venture into certified parks to explore the Alaskan wilderness. Many trails lie just outside major cities, and their trailheads are accessible with a short drive. Wherever you’re vacationing or living in Alaska, I assure you several scenic hikes aren’t too far away.

Whether you’re in Alaska’s coastal rainforests or rugged interior, you’ll find untamed nature. Alaskan wildlife is unlike anywhere else in the United States, and hiking is the best activity to encounter many species. To help you plan the ultimate Alaskan vacation, these are my picks of where to find epic hiking trails. I’ve narrowed the list to 10, but there are tons of other beautiful destinations for hardy trekkers.

  • Denali National Park and Preserve – Home to the imposing Denali peak, this national park delves into the rugged Alaskan interior. Expect vast tundra, immense glaciers, and wildlife around every turn. And don’t leave without getting the perfect photo of North America’s tallest peak.


  • Kenai Fjords National Park – While the fjords and islands are the star attraction, hikers yearn at the chance to stand beside the 700 sq-mile Harding Icefield. Staring at the gigantic icefield provides a glimpse into what the Earth resembled during the Ice Ages. Climb to a higher altitude for spectacular images of tidewater glaciers, deep-blue fjords, and craggy islands.


  • Lake Clark National Park and Preserve – Although it’s not accessible by road, Lake Clark National Park is a goldmine for hiking adventures. The sparkling lake and rich waterways attract tons of wildlife for unforgettable encounters on the trails. And with spruce forests, tundra, and snow-capped peaks around Lake Clark, it’s heaven for nature lovers.


  • Chugach State Park – If you need to stay close to Anchorage, Chugach State Park is the place for you. The park lies next door to Alaska’s largest city and feels like another world compared to urban life. Discover glacial-fed lakes, rugged mountains, and a stunning coastline right beside the big city.


  • Tongass National Forest – Many consider the Tongass to be the most important national forest in the United States. At 17 million acres, Tongass National Forest is home to an extensive list of animal and plant species. Hiking through this temperate rain forest brings you a sense of tranquility that’s hard to match.


  • Denali State Park – You don’t have to visit Denali National Park for dramatic views of the famous peak. The neighboring Denali State Park includes hikes with sensational viewpoints of Denali and the interior forests. And you’ll find the trails quieter than the more popular next-door national park.


  • Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve – At six times larger than Yellowstone, Wrangell-St. Elias is BIG! With so much space to roam, hikers will find their happy place in its rugged landscapes. Hike amongst gigantic glaciers, smoldering volcanoes, and old mining towns in this untamed wilderness.


  • Chugach National Forest – Adjacent to Prince William Sound, Chugach National Forest has the total package for hikers. Steep mountain passes, alpine lakes, spruce forests, and blooming wildflowers give it incredible diversity. One moment you’ll hike through temperate rainforests, and suddenly snowy peaks surround you in all directions.


  • Juneau – Alaska’s seaside capital is a fantastic base to reach all sorts of incredible hikes. From the famous Mendenhall Glacier to nearby islands, Juneau makes a beautiful spot to explore Southeast Alaska. Its trail system consists of many gorgeous hikes accessible in minutes from downtown Juneau.



  • Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve – If you’re up for the wildest adventure you can imagine, Gates of the Arctic will provide it. The park lies within the Arctic Circle and has the most unexplored backcountry in Alaska. But you’ve been warned; this remote wilderness is only for the hardiest of backpackers.


Top Hiking Trails in Alaska

While you can hike a lifetime in Alaska and never get bored, I’ve narrowed my list down to 13 stunning hikes. These trails are widely accessible, so you don’t need Bear Grylls skills to survive. If you can’t tame your lust for wild adventures, Alaska has endless backcountry for you to discover. But for the sake of everyone, this list has Alaska trails for all types of intrepid explorers.


1. Harding Icefield Trail

  • Length: 8.2 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Hard

Located in Kenai Fjords National Park, the Harding Icefield Trail is a right of passage for Alaska hikers. Starting from the Exit Glacier Area, the path rises from the valley floor to the massive icefield. The Harding Icefield resembles an ocean of solid ice, and it’s among the most impressive icefields you’ll ever witness. Dozens of glaciers still retreat from the Harding Icefield and continue to shape the landscape.

The path starts within the pristine forest, but you’ll soon make a dramatic ascent above the treeline. At around 3,800 ft of elevation gain, that leads to jaw-dropping views of Kenai Fjords National Park. Turn around often for stunning panoramas of snow-lined peaks and immaculate waterways. After coursing through alpine meadows and vast tundra, you’ll encounter the immense icefield. On your ascent, watch out for brown bears, moose, mountain goats, and lots of bird species.

From the summit, it feels like you’ve entered another planet where impenetrable blocks of ice cover the landscape. At the rocky viewpoint, you notice craggy peaks that barely push through the ice and snow. It feels lonely and desolate up here, but the rare vision of ice ages is worth the muscle-aching climb. Bring warm, waterproof clothes, proper hiking boots, and sun protection for the unpredictable weather at Harding Icefield. Sudden snowstorms and high winds can make this a potentially life-threatening hike if you’re unprepared.



2. Crow Pass Trail from Girdwood Trailhead

  • Length: 26.0 miles
  • Route Type: Point to Point
  • Difficulty: Hard

The trek through Crow Pass is a legendary Alaskan hike that entices backpackers from across the globe. At 26 miles, hiking the entire trail is recommended only for experienced adventurers. But for a few glimpses of its otherworldly beauty, you can still walk a few miles and return to the trailhead. The Historic Iditarod Trail once courses through the path, and the surrounding scenery is quintessential Alaska. Best of all, it’s an accessible 45-mile drive from Anchorage inside Chugach State Park.

Tackle the first few miles, and it’s an ethereal sight of snow-capped peaks, turquoise rivers, U-shaped valleys, glaciers, colorful wildflowers, and loads of wildlife. Bears, moose, deer, and other species roam the wilderness here, so be on high alert for animal sightings. As you venture into Crow Creek Valley, imposing mountains span across the horizon. Continue your ascent to find ruins of mining operations that attracted fortune seekers of the early 20th century.

For intrepid hikers willing to go the distance, Crow Pass is a breathtaking sight to behold. Mighty glaciers and snow-clad peaks stand before you as waterfalls plunge against the rocky walls. The emerald-hued Crystal Lake shines beneath the craggy peaks, and Raven Glacier is a mammoth sea of ice.


3. Chilkoot Pass Trail

  • Length: 31.4 miles
  • Route Type: Point to Point
  • Difficulty: Hard

The Chilkoot Pass Trail follows the footsteps of daring Klondike gold seekers from the late 19th century. To complete this historic footpath, you’ll hike through parts of Alaska and British Columbia. If you want to avoid any hassles, ensure you have your passport for the international border crossing. Just north of Skagway, the journey enchants hikers with images of Alaska’s Coast Mountains. If you’re here for the entire trek to Canada’s Bennett Lake, set aside 3-5 days for the adventure.

Before you prepare your camping gear, don’t forget to purchase a permit for the overnight hike. As you make steep ascents on rocky terrain, imagine gold-seekers carrying heavy equipment on their backs. The hardy adventurers left behind loads of artefacts that you’ll spot while scouring the trail. You’ll start by meandering through temperate rainforests before climbing toward the Chilkoot Pass.

The fun part begins at the “Golden Staircase,” where it takes pure grit to conquer the steep, rocky inclines. During the Gold Rush, this brutal section thwarted many travelers desperate to haul their equipment through the mountains. But beyond the back-breaking Chilkoot Pass, the trail rewards hikers with alpine lakes and turquoise rivers.



4. Reed Lakes Trail

  • Length: 8.7 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Hard

Reed Lakes Trail sits in the Hatcher Pass Management Area and shines with its glacial-fed lakes. The craggy Talkeetna Mountains stretch through south-central Alaska, and the trailhead is a short 58-mile drive north of Anchorage. But you’ve been warned that Archangel Road right before the trailhead is treacherous on vehicles.

The trail wanders through a glacial valley and makes a hefty elevation gain of around 2,240 ft. It starts easy but then steadily climbs to get your blood pumping. Bring your waterproof hiking boots since you’ll have to make creek and river crossings amongst huge boulders. Stop for a few moments to catch the stunning images of the snow-capped peaks rising above the U-shaped valley.

After a series of switchbacks, the trail becomes tricky to decipher, and a map will come in handy. As you continue along the creek, Lower Reed Lake appears on the horizon. Trek along rugged boulders, pass rocky walls and watch tumbling waterfalls before arriving at Upper Reed Lake. The emerald water sparkles beneath serrated peaks, and you’ll be blown away by the raw beauty.


5. West Glacier Trail

  • Length: 4.0 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate

A quick 20-minute drive from Juneau brings you to one of Alaska’s most famous day hikes. The West Glacier Trail runs along Mendenhall Lake and offers spectacular views of Mendenhall Glacier. Although the trail isn’t long, several sections present safety risks. You’ll face creek crossings, craggy rocks, and unstable terrain. And the path gets extremely difficult to follow in certain areas.

The West Glacier Trail has search & rescue missions every year, and several hikers have sustained injuries. Follow cairns scattered along the path until you reach the dramatic overlook of Mendenhall Glacier. But for inexperienced hikers, I highly recommend hiring a guide due to the challenging terrain. Alaska also discourages hiking the route without a guide with you.

The trail shows how glaciation has altered the landscapes as you follow the glacier trimline. As you approach the glacier, you’ll trek through an old-growth forest before coming to a rocky outcrop. From here, it’s incredible to witness the sea of ice retreating into the lake.



6. Deer Mountain Trail

  • Length: 6.7 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Hard

If you’re staying in Ketchikan, the Deer Mountain Trail is the premier hike for avid trekkers. The mountain forms the backdrop over town, but it’s a brutal climb for the dramatic vistas. At 2,800 ft elevation gain, it’s a sense of relief when you finally have those glorious views over the town.

The hike begins as a gentle walk through the Tongass National Forest, but that changes at the switchbacks. It’s crazy steep, unstable, and snowy at higher altitudes. Waterproof boots are essential since you’ll encounter both mud and snow on the trail. But when you finally complete those unforgiving switchbacks, the panorama washes the pain away.

The Deer Mountain summit places you high above the rainforest canopy, and snow-capped peaks fill the distant horizon. Deep-blue lakes, forested islands, and lush forests create a beautiful image around Ketchikan. If you have a flashlight for the return, watching the sunset from Deer Mountain is an unforgettable experience.


7. Lost Lake Trail

  • Length: 13.8 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Feel like an Alaskan sled dog as you embark on a small section of the famous Iditarod National Historic Trail. Just outside of Seward, Lost Lake Trail is an excellent addition to Kenai Fjords National Park or Prince William Sound. The hike starts through the fertile Chugach National Forest before rising into alpine meadows. As you steadily climb above the spruce forests, snowy peaks surround you in all directions.

After you ascend into the sub-alpine terrain, Lost Lake starts to appear along the horizon. Colorful wildflowers dot the verdant meadows around the shoreline as snow-lined mountains rise above you. Regardless of the season, always prepare for snow when you make the 2,630 ft climb to the aquamarine lake.



8. Indian River Trail

  • Length: 8.4 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Just outside of Sitka, the Indian River Trail ambles through the lush forests dotting Baranof Island. The trail follows the crystal-clear river, where you can sometimes spot salmon and bird species. As you wander into the forest, the path crosses numerous cascading waterfalls for a peaceful setting.

The 70 ft Indian River Falls is the highlight after climbing amongst Sitka spruce and western hemlocks. But ensure you bring the proper hiking boots since the last portion to the waterfall requires a slippery rock scramble.

It’s a modest elevation gain of roughly 940 ft, so it’s not a strenuous hike for avid trekkers. When you reach the higher points, you’ll capture images of snow-clad peaks above the forest. The Indian River trail is an excellent path to spot wildlife, so keep your eyes peeled for critters. Bears usually aren’t found wandering this trail, but the fish-happy waterway could attract them.


9. Winner Creek Trail

  • Length: 6.4 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Easy

Winner Creek Trail gives your knees a break from climbing but doesn’t lack natural beauty. Situated in Chugach State Park, the trail makes a popular and accessible day trip from Anchorage. As you meander through temperate rainforests, the sound of flowing streams creates a peaceful setting. Stroll along the boardwalk for scenic views above the gorge or scan the distance for snowy mountains.

The path adds a little twist by allowing you to cross a creek using a hand-pulled tram. Turquoise water from the rushing creek sits below while spruce trees surround the gorge. If you’re up for a longer hike, continue to Upper Winner Creek for dramatic mountain vistas.


10. Savage River Loop

  • Length: 2.1 miles
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Difficulty: Easy

The Savage River Loop trailhead offers a gateway into the eerie tundra of Denali National Park. The loop trail follows the Savage River until you arrive at the bridge to make your return. With the mostly flat terrain and well-maintained path, hikers of all levels can appreciate the untamed Denali wilderness. Dall sheep, caribou, bears, and many other creatures lead to many wildlife sightings around the Savage River.

While it’s possible to wander off the trail, there’s no telling what type of wildlife and terrain you’ll meet. I’d stick to the defined path since you put yourself in danger in the rocky, unstable area. The surrounding images of sweeping tundra, distant mountains, and wildlife makes Savage River an awe-inspiring day hike.



11. Thorofare Ridge Trail

  • Length: 2.2 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Hard

The Thorofare Ridge Trail presents one of the most spectacular images of the Denali National Park wilderness. Although it’s not incredibly long, the path makes a brutal ascent of 1,100 ft in a short distance. Start from the Eielson Visitor Center and get ready for an intense climb to the ridgeline. But the overlap of snowy peaks, tundra, wildflowers, and rocky cliffs leaves you speechless.

Don’t tackle the route without sturdy hiking boots since the terrain is extremely unstable at times. Parts of the ridgeline feel like you’re standing on another planet until you gaze at the winding rivers below. Scan the alpine tundra for chances to spot bears, caribou, and other wildlife who brave the frigid weather. And on clear afternoons, the mighty Denali stands proudly at the roof of North America from your viewpoint.


12. Curry Ridge Trail

  • Length: 6.5 miles
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Alaskan natives love Denali State Park for its scenic trails that offer sensational views without the crowds. Curry Ridge ranks among the top day hikes for uninterrupted views of the Denali Mountains. Just north of Talkeetna Lakes Park, the Curry Ridge starts amidst the fertile wetlands and old-growth forests. But the trail quickly makes a fierce 1,000 ft ascent to the unbelievable Denali viewpoint.

As you wander through the dense forest, have bug spray handy due to pesky mosquitoes. The trail uses a series of switchbacks to rise above the treeline and show off epic mountain vistas. Turquoise waterways cut through the forest as Denali forms a majestic backdrop. With the spectacular images of North America’s tallest peak, save this hike for a sunny day.



13. Ward Lake Trail

  • Length: 1.5 miles
  • Route Type: Loop
  • Difficulty: Easy

Just north of Ketchikan, Ward Lake Trail encircles the picturesque lake that’s popular amongst local campers. The flat trail is easy on your legs and adds the tranquillity of the Tongass National Forest. Old-growth forests of cedar, hemlock, and spruce trees adorn the shoreline, and their reflection often shines on the lake. And if you’re quiet, Ward Lake is an excellent spot to view bald eagles, kingfishers, swans, and other bird species.


Which one of these trails made it onto your Alaska hiking bucket list? Let us know in the comments below.

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